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Fourth grade students in Tessie Garcia’s art class help to create individualized medals for local GECKO (Giving Every Child Knowledge of the Outdoors) events each year.
Founded in 2008 by Morgan Murri, GECKO is a nonprofit organization that uses proceeds from competitive events to fund scholarships that help kids and young adults participate in NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) programs. The first race hosted in Pagosa by GECKO was the first annual Mountain Chili Cha Cha run. The organization has expanded to offer a diversity of competitive events since.
In 2008, Garcia was approached by GECKO and asked if she and her students could help make clay medals and ready them to be given as awards to event participants. Murri has carried on this tradition each year and GECKO media coordinator Kirsten Le Roux and Garcia now brainstorm ideas for medals for different events — each event has a unique medal. After deciding on designs, Garcia and high school helper and pottery student Shaylah Lucero craft the medals out of clay. Students in Garcia’s fourth-grade class then paint the medals.
From design to award, the medals take a lot of time and work to produce. Garcia orders high quality clay from New Mexico and then the medals are shaped and let dry. Once dry, the pieces are fired in a kiln, sometimes more than once depending on the glaze used to color the medals. After being fired, the medals are ready to be strung by Garcia’s students and given out to GECKO competitors.
Garcia explained that it is exciting to have her student’s work on display in the community through GECKO events and discussed how satisfying it is to have competitors enjoy local artwork.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Garcia, “I like when I talk to people that have been in the races and hearing that they love knowing that a child helped make the medals.”
Born and raised in Pagosa, Garcia knew she wanted to be an art teacher starting in third grade. After getting her B.A. in art from Adams State College, she returned to Pagosa in 1993 and began the current art program at the elementary school. Garcia believes that every child is an artist.
In addition to crafting GECKO medals, Garcia and her students are involved in the Empty Bowls project. Garcia’s fourth-grade students make clay bowls for the project, which are then taken home by community members. Proceeds from donations made at the event are given to local food pantries to help feed those in need. The Empty Bowls event will be held this Saturday at the elementary school from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Garcia is compensated by GECKO for making the medals and uses the resulting funds to purchase supplies and provide scholarships for a Hands-On Art Camp she helps run each June.